As the countdown begins to mark one year of the abrogation of special status, splitting and downgrade of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the first Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of J&K, G C Murmu, speaks to The Indian Express. Excerpts:
On August 5, Jammu and Kashmir will mark one year since its special status was abrogated and the state was split. What has changed?
August 5 is not a milestone…that was a decision taken to abrogate a temporary provision. Our horizons are long-term, (for) all-round well-being of the people of the Union Territory. We have started our journey.
What’s your assessment of the implementation of the Prime Minister’s J&K package?
The PM’s package was declared in 2015. Only 27 per cent expenditure (was recorded) by the end of 2018. We have now reached 54 per cent. Projects completed (have gone up) from seven to 17. The Ranbir canal in Jammu has been cleaned up after 11 years. In the Keran sector, electricity supply was not there, we had to use DG sets. For the first time, we have laid an electricity line there. Our idea is to expand employment opportunities for the youth by bringing investment…We formulated some 14 policies to promote industries, start-ups, we planned an investment summit in May but due to COVID-19 pandemic, we had to postpone.
What’s the progress in attracting private investments? How much land has been allocated to private sector?
We have not yet allotted land. We have identified 6000 acres of government land. Our policy is that we will only bring environment-friendly industries, non-polluting industries. We will give preference to local youth and entrepreneurs. We have seen that no agricultural land is diverted for the industrial purpose.
What are your expectations on restarting the political process?
The political process has started. We conducted Panchayat elections… we planned elections for the remaining seats in February-March but then Covid-19 came and we had to postpone it. We wanted to establish the three-tier Panchayati Raj system…local bodies are getting direct funds from the Government of India and under the finance commission. But they don’t have structure, we had tried to create a structure, but we had this setback…We have already chalked out a plan to create a separate cadre for the Panchayats… That is half done. Second part is that the delimitation committee is already appointed, now delimitation will start. The Assembly elections should also come simultaneously or after that. So this parallel work is going on. I think this vacuum is temporary.
When are Assembly elections expected?
The Election Commission has to take a decision, whether they will do it as per earlier delimitation, or they will work as per the new delimitation. I hope that by the turn of this year, some kind of process will start.
Key mainstream political leaders, three former CMs, a sitting MP, former ministers, former legislators were kept under detention, many of them under PSA. And even released, they have been kept under house arrest. Besides, lot of people were arrested ahead of August 5 decision last year.
Over a period of time, most have been released, a few are there. There is a process, a committee which looks at threat perception and other things. Even the courts are monitoring it. Those who are released are not under house detention. Wherever we have house detention, there are clear-cut directions… some of the released leaders even have travelled to Delhi as well.
PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti is the only one still detained under PSA, why is she not being released?
The committee is reviewing it from time to time and they take decisions accordingly.
Almost all separatist leaders are in jail. Did the government try to reach out to them since you took over?
I think there is a different mechanism to reach out to them. But personally I have no knowledge of that.
How do you address concerns that the new domicile policy will change the demography of the state?
This domicile issue is nothing to worry about. You had a Permanent Resident Certificate that has a new name of domicile. Changes are very few. Changes are those who are here for the last 70 years, who didn’t have PRC. Only they have been made eligible, like Gorkhas. In the Maharaja’s time, there were 10,000, but maybe they are 30,000 now. They were living here, but they have no rights. So they have been given this. All PRC holders automatically will get the domicile. Then Valmikis, who were brought from Punjab, 2000 families, now they may be 20,000. They have been working here but they have no rights. They can’t go for higher education and they cannot get equal job opportunities. Then the displaced people, in 1947 they have come, but they have nothing. So, no new person will be jumping and coming. Unnecessary politicking is going on, nothing else.
Locals fear their land will be taken away?
Land is protected. We will not touch agriculture land, and only government land. If some local person wants to convert his land to industry, there can be a different procedure. But we are not touching that right now. Land is very scarce. 30 per cent of GDP comes from agriculture. Then hospitality and tourism. These two cover 50 per cent GDP of the state. We cannot disturb that thing. That will remain.
Until last count, 128 militants have been killed by security forces this year. Most of them are said to be local militants. How much of a concern is that?
Definitely, it is a matter of concern because this is some kind of misplaced notion and misguided people. These youngsters don’t know for what they are fighting for. They are not just militants, they are a threat to the common people…We take parents when there is a cordon but they don’t listen. They have been indoctrinated…they should be more aware that picking up arms is no solution. Nowhere in the world, has this been a solution.
Is there any surrender policy for militants?
That we have flagged, because that policy decision has to be taken at the highest level. We alone cannot take a decision. At our level, we are trying to persuade them. And if they surrender, we will treat them properly, we will not treat them as criminals.
Recently a BJP leader was killed along with two family members. How big a concern is political violence?
These people (those opposed to the political process) have handlers and they want to create sensation. So wherever, they can create a sensation, they pick targets. We will ensure no one is exposed to these things, whether it is BJP or non-BJP or anybody.
There is talk about return to statehood. Is something happening in this regard?
The government has already promised that statehood will come back. But it is a matter of timing — what and when to do. All major developments, infrastructure development, job creation…all this has to be done very quickly. That is why it was deliberately kept as a UT…
Your new media policy…now the government will decide what is news/what is permissible to publish etc.
I think media policy has been read very wrongly. Our idea was like DAVP and other things, how to accredit and how not to accredit them…We introduced media policy as there was no earmarking for electronic and social media.
There have been cases filed under UAPA against journalists, FIRs regularly… many have been summoned to police stations.
That is circumstantial evidence. If somebody is indulging in that kind of thing, which attracts IPC or CrPC, then I have nothing to say.
Besides Pakistan, now China has been making statements on Kashmir. Do you think this affects the situation in J&K?
I don’t see it that way because it is an integral part of the Union of India. It is internationally recognized…Anyone is free to give any statement from their side.
4G internet is still not allowed in J&K. Why?
Court has formed a committee, it’s monitored by the court. I wish that we should be given this permission, so that 4G should start.
If the decision to abrogate special status and downgrade the state into UT is so unpopular that the government doesn’t allow normal activity of mainstream regional political parties, how will is the government going to ensure peace in Kashmir?
A narrative was created here that 370 is protecting them and because of that there is autonomy. In fact, 370 was not giving (any) advantage. After I came here, out of 890 Union laws, 350 were already implemented; another 370 Union laws were not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir. After abrogation, only 170 more laws are relevant. They are very good laws, like protecting women, protecting SC/STs, Forest Rights Act.
But are the people happy in Kashmir with the abrogation of Article 370? If the decision is unpopular, how will the government ensure peace?
Khush hona chaahiye. I feel 90 per cent of the people in Kashmir look for development, growth, employment opportunities, (where) their future is secure, and they are safe. They have a steady income, they have an opportunity to grow. Over time, some of them were silenced. If they say the right thing, somebody will kill them. Wherever I go, they are interested in growth (and the future) and nothing else. But they cannot openly say that because they are afraid.
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